John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Right idea, says Key, but we sold it badly

Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Greg Bowker
Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Greg Bowker

The Prime Minister's weekly press conference resembled something of a confessional yesterday. John Key delivered what might be the longest apology by a Prime Minister on record while endeavouring not to use the word apology.

Rather than simply declaring he was "moving on" from last week's humiliating backdown on Budget changes to teacher-pupil ratios which would have resulted in increased class sizes, Key seemed to be wallowing init.

The intention? To show that his Government, which, to borrow his phraseology, has displayed a "guts it out" mentality on contentious policy since last year's election, was one that was actually still capable of listening to people - and responding in kind.

It was mea culpa as much as Hekia culpa. The change in ratios was the "right idea", but it had been poorly managed and poorly sold. Key included himself in apportioning blame forthat.

No matter that in almost the next breath he was insisting that the age of eligibility for national superannuation did not have to rise to 67, it was a different tack from his early morning remarks on National Radio when he refused to be "down in the mouth" about National's recent poll ratings. On air, he simply ended up sounding down in the mouth about National's recent poll ratings.

He dismissively noted that even if the polls had backing for National drifting off previous highs of 50 per cent-plus, support was still around or not far below the 47 per cent his party secured at the election.

Fair enough. As is normal in the year after an election, polling tends to be more spasmodic and it is consequently more difficult to draw definitive conclusions from the results.

Sunday night's 3News poll, however, would seem to be confirming a trend apparent in other polls that has Labour four to six percentage points up on its 28 per cent result on election night, while the Greens are hovering at between 10 and 14 per cent.

The poll's significance is threefold. First, the possibility of a Labour-Greens government is now very much part of the political dynamic.

Second, National is going to have to reach out to parties other than its existing support partners if it still wants to be in government beyond 2014.

Third, this year's catalogue of mishaps and self-inflicted problems is starting to exhaust the political capital that National had built up with voters.

The poor management and poorer communication of the Government's position on contentious matters seems to compound when the Prime Minister is out of the country and he has at least six other major overseas trips ahead of him this year.

Having assured voters his Government is listening to them, Key will have his fingers crossed that voters in turn will hear what he is saying and will stick with National.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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